Gerhard Fettweis, Vodafone chair professor, at the Technische Universitat Dresden delivered a talk called The Wireless Roadmap and said that in 10 years time as many as 100 billion cellular devices will be connected by 2020.

That’s based on the cellular standard LTE taking off in 2012, and LTE Advanced in 2015 or so.  The professor has already got an LTE Advanced testbed in the heart of Dresden, in cooperation with Qualcomm, Alcatel-Lucent, Infineon and other high tech companies.

He told the audience at the conference today that the 50 billion figure is an estimate by the telecomms companies but that they always underestimate the figures.

Tiny LTE chips will be built into all sorts of devices, ranging from lighting, to airport seats, and for machine to machine communication. And he forecasts that if the sums are right, future generations based on the LTE cellular standard – or 5G – will support 3D multimedia and virtual reality, the speed of the connections will be so great.

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He said that in the future the industry will provide 100Gb/sec interconnects that could be used, for example, to connect together different boards in a device, each of those boards  using opto interconnects to give fast response times.

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He said that by implementing LTE+ in the future, aircraft, for example would be able to provide wireless access points that connect the seats and providing fast inflight entertainment. An Airbus A380, for example, currently uses tons of cables for the inflight entertainment systems and that overhead would be very considerably reduced.

He had a warning for the semiconductor industry too. “Today if you want to go into the startup semiconductor business you’re asking for trouble. You have to be able to add 3D graphics, video codec, etc. etc. That’s $500 million development cost to build a chip. We wireless engineers came up with a data rate without asking you guys for the silicon. That slices it up, and changes everything. We’ve lost at least one order of magnitude. Today if you start a system company you either need a ton of money or be a platform provider.”

The university designed a chip called the Tomahawk as a research vehicle for LTE. The chip is 100 square millimetres, uses a 130 nanometre process, and is super low end technology. “Using the 45 nanometre CMOS process we can do it in 10 square millimetres. It rocks the boat of the industry.  With LTE we can fit everything in a quarter or maybe even one tenth of a chip,” he claimed.